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CN March 15 2018


Remember when Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley was quoted, exclaiming at a closed session of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee, “If a man can’t put his arms around his son, then what kind of world are we living in? I make no apologies. If I can’t help my son, (my critics) can kiss my ass.”

Do you remember what he was talking about? Well, it’s all in Dick Simpson’s new book The Good Fight.

“I introduced a Council resolution,” Simpson writes, ”ordering Daley to account as to ‘whether he has unlawfully used his influence as Mayor [for his sons] to receive undue preference.’ It was defeated 35-7″. It all had to do with Daley sending a no-bid contact for city insurance to the very company where one of his sons worked.

A year or so earlier, when he had just arrived on the Council, but had already been teaching at UIC for about 5 years, Simpson drew the battle lines quite starkly.

Complaining about 31st Ward Alderman Tom Keane attempting to put his son into a fairly obscure post as head of the Zoning Board of Appeals, he pointed out that Keane Jr was Vice President at Arthur Rubloff, at that time the most powerful real estate venture in the city. Keane was so connected he was often said to be second only to Daley in political influence. Daley didn’t like what this new kid was trying to do, and he exploded at the rostrum.

“The idea that I made this appointment because a man’s name was Keane and he was the son of a famous member of this council!” he exclaimed. “I made this appointment because I have known Tommy Keane, the boy I appointed since he’s been a baby… Should that boy be told… that he shouldn’t hold office because his name is Keane?”

Then turning to Simpson’s academic background, he went on. “Where are we going with these kind of educators? You are doing this to the young people of our country! And (Simpson) is not the only one. He’s typical of the large number (of professors) in universities polluting the minds of the young people… Frankly if you’re a teacher, God help the students that are in your class, if this is what is being taught.”

“Well,” Simpson tells us, “The biggest fun thing people don’t know is the Sears Tower is built over what used to be an alley that Tom Keane Sr managed to get as his law fee for condemning the street and allowing the Sears Tower to be built. That’s one of the reasons he went to jail for as long as he did. The Sears Tower wouldn’t exist if… I mean the Sears Tower is a good thing on the whole, but they could have done it legally. They wouldn’t have to bribe the head of the City Council.”

That’s how we began our conversation about Simpson’s sixty-plus years in public service, 51 of them at UIC as professor of political science. “Yes,” he says, “I’m still a teacher and I still do these weird things like try and engage students in more than just dull lectures.”

Key among them is instilling an interest in activism. And that starts with voting.

“We also have added by different registration techniques,” he explains, “an effort that has now yielded thousands of new student voters, more than ever before. We increased the voting at UIC – in 2012 42% of our students voted, in 2016 55% of our students vote. We had the largest increase of any university in the country of registrations and additional voting in 2016.”

Simpson’s political and personal life began in Texas, where he was active in the struggle for racial equality in the 1950s. He also spent time in Africa working  on his doctoral dissertation. He arrived in Chicago in 1967 during the red-hot political events that would lead to the riots at the Democratic convention.

Then in 1971 he decided that he wanted to run for office, and he successfully won the 44th Ward aldermanic seat. “We were fighting over what should Chicago become,” he declares. “And so that’s why what would be a normal clash about somebody’s appointment was really a clash about patronage and nepotism and the rotten aspects of the Chicago machine.”

He told his supporters that, if elected, he’d institute a new way of thinking about aldermanic service. “We really thought citizens should be able to have a voice in the decisions that most affect lives,” he tells us. “If you think about Trump or you think Emanuel today or you think about Rauner as Governor, I mean none of them pay any attention to what the hell citizens want.”

Once in office, he announced that he’d vote the way Lakeview needed him to vote, not the way the mayor needed him to vote. That neighborhood-based government would direct his voting. “It sounded a lot like the SDS Port Huron Statement,” he laughs.

As alderman, and in the many years after he left office in 1979, Simpson was engaged in some of he most significant battles  of our time. One of them was the legal fight to dismantle the Chicago Police Red Squad, which he says was founded in the 1930’s, “just to keep track of all the commies, that is labor union organizers and the like.”

The Red Squad, Simpson claims, was monitoring at least “20 different civic organizations and 20 or so major public officials.”

He had first-hand experience with the agency.

“The Red Squad would spy on us, and they would do more than just spy in the sense of sit and take notes, they did that, but they actually were agent provocateurs,” he claims.  “They broke up an attempt we did to try and elect officials to county government as independents. We were meeting on the west side in a basement and one of the red squad agents got so provocative that the whole coalition fell apart, we couldn’t put together the ticket.”

“And so we sued them and we won the case,” he explains. “There were reparations paid to the organizations and the individuals.” In fact, more than $300,000 – a huge amount of money for the time. “The individuals, a group of us got together and set up a fund at the Crossroads Fund and then funded other civil liberties efforts for a decade to come.”

Simpson was also a significant player in the effort to defeat patronage. Michael Shakman, he explains, attempted to win a seat as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1970 that would re-write the Illinois Constitution. But he lost.

“He sued in federal court saying that the reason he didn’t get it was the patronage workers were working against him and that this took away both rights of candidates and citizens” he tells us. “But critical to this case it also took away the rights of the patronage worker. If you were a patronage worker you had to work for your sponsor or the party. And it took a long time for this to go. I mean we’re talking 1971 it all started. By the middle 70s it had worked its way through the first stage and the first Shakman Decree said you couldn’t, I have to get it right, you couldn’t fire workers for not working in a campaign. The second Shakman Decree said you couldn’t hire people because they had worked on a campaign”

And he was instrumental in another major political battle with huge consequences. “I was an expert witness in all of the gerrymandering cases which we’ve gotten very familiar with gerrymandering now, but all the wards were gerrymandered and they were gerrymandered to disadvantage the minority groups, to keep the number of black aldermen down. To keep the number of Latino aldermen almost nothing.”

A major consequence of this battle was that Simpson and his allies successfully won an order to re-district the City Council in the mid-80s, requiring a re-map that gave minorities a greater opportunity to hold Council seats. The effort was so successful that the new Council roster gave Harold Washington control of the Council for the first time, ending “Council Wars”.

The Good Fight is unusual for a political memoir in that it deals openly and frankly with Dick Simpson’s personal life. He describes his three marriages, his contemplation of suicide and his failure to balance his public life and his private life. He also takes us inside his time as an ordained minister.

“I don’t think a memoir can be written unless you write the truth,” he proclaims. “Sometimes you can shield some other people and maybe not tell the whole story that affects their life, but for your own life you have to, I think, be truthful. If it isn’t, people will instantly recognize it’s just all fluff. The second thing is I think the struggle between personal and outer life, interior and external, is a struggle that’s not just a politician’s struggle. I think a lot of people have it that whatever their job, whatever work they do.”

As we conclude, we ask Simpson, the lifelong activist, how he feels when he watches the student leaders of the gun resistance after the Florida massacre.

“It’s a great new movement,” he enthuses. “It’s allowing students to speak out. If they speak out now they will do that the rest of their lives. If they don’t win an early victory that may or may not be as important as the fact that they learn how to fight.”


Watch the entire show on YouTube here.

And you can listen to the audio of today’s show on SoundCloud here.

And why not subscribe to our podcast at iTunes, so it’ll download to your favorite device each week? (Tap “View in i-Tunes,” then tap “subscribe.”)

Also, read a full transcript of the show here: CNtranscript March 15 2018

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CN March 8 2018


So how was your commute today? Quick run downtown on the Red line? Gliding into the Loop from Arlington Heights or Bolingbrook on the Metra? A Pace bus from Skokie, a crosstown CTA bus, or maybe paratransit?

Oh, you drove in and parked – or you’re one of the cool kids who started work early on your iPad pro in the back seat of an Uber?

Well, here’s one thing we all have in common. In some way or another, the policies and practices of the Regional Transportation Authority had a direct impact on how you got to work or school today. The RTA’s been around for a while now – created in 1974 – and it has had some successes. But, hey, it’s in the public transit business, so very few politicians are willing to spend tax dollars to replace imploding trackbeds and decrepit stations – so progress is slow.

In fact, in the most recent RTA assessment, they need 1.6 billion a year for the next ten years just to keep up with normal replacement of vehicles, tracks and buildings, but they already have about a 20 billion dollar backlog in projects that never got funded. The state has pretty much run away from transit funding altogether in the past few years, and let’s not even get into what’s happening with the Trump administration, which seems like it’s pretty much wiped out federal support for transit in its ballyhooed infrastructure plan.

So today, we’ve invited the guy who runs the RTA to come sit with us and answer the question, why would anybody want this job anyway?
Kirk Dillard ran twice for Governor and missed winning the Republican Primary in 2010 by a little less than 200 votes. And in 2016 by about one voter per precinct. He still thinks he could’ve beat Pat Quinn in 2010, and who knows what would’ve happened if he beat Bruce Rauner in the ’14 primary?
Dillard went on to run the RTA later in 2014 and he’s been there ever since.
Dillard’s in an interesting position today. His state’s governor, and his president, are both Republicans. But he finds himself in disagreement with their transit policies. “Whether it’s Governor Rauner or President Trump, they need to understand that where transit goes the economy grows,” he declares. “It’s been proven time and time again, and governors of other states clearly understand it because they are putting substantial amounts of money (into public transit), especially as we have millennials and the generation of Uber and Lyft and the Divvy bicycles, it’s a different way that they travel.”
“The President has essentially flipflopped the traditional role of mass transit,” he continues. “It used to be an 80/20 split where we would have a 20% effort locally and the federal government will do 80. He’s flipped it upside down. If the President were sitting here where you are, Ken I would say, President Trump, how do you think for your properties in New York City or Trump Tower in Chicago, how do you think most of your employees  get to work? Whether it’s the custodians or the concierge, or your bellmen, or your maid service, they take the CTA…”

Dillard’s RTA wants to be thinking about big-picture projects for the future. But expansion projects and additional services have to wait, because unfunded maintenance is the highest priority. “We have an overall capital backlog of probably $20-billion,” he tells us. “And you’re talking about the President’s plan. He’s talking…Just to give you something to gauge the size or lack of size of the President’s plan, the President wants to have a $200-billion of federal money program. Our state of good repair needs just in Chicago is $20-billion, so we could eat up one-tenth of the President’s infrastructure plan all by ourselves.”  And New York’s backlog, he adds, is more than $100 billion, so that’s half.

“One-third of all of our assets in this area are essentially beyond their useful life,” he laments. “And our mechanics do a great job. Our system is safe. We don’t do anything that compromises safety. But the older our system gets the more expensive it is to maintain. I ride in in a car on the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Metra line that was delivered when Dwight Eisenhower was President.”

The RTA is getting squeezed from every direction. It’s not just that state and federal sources are drastically reducing their investment in equipment replacement and major renovations. The day-to-day operational funding is dropping, too.

“40% of the monies come from the riders themselves,” he explains. “Another 40% comes from the sales tax, which has been impacted by all of us buying products online. We don’t get quite the sales tax revenue that we probably think we should, and then another 20% is really supposed to come from the federal government and the state.”

“But for the first time in the history of the State, and it’s not only the RTA, it affects municipalities, the State is taking 2% of all the sales taxes that are raised in the metropolitan six-county area which the RTA is under,” he explains. “The State now takes 2% of all the sales taxes, ships it off to Springfield for the bureaucrats in Springfield to administer, so that’s a huge cut. Over a couple of year period that’s $40-million to the ridership of Metra, Pace in the CTA.”

“The state, though, has been really almost a deadbeat with respect to funding the Regional Transportation System in Illinois,” he asserts.

Gas taxes also play a part in RTA funding, but a very small part. “What we give from our gas tax to infrastructure is among the ten lowest in the United States of America,” Dillard claims. “Our gas tax has not been changed. I was Governor’s Edgar’s Chief of Staff, it hasn’t been changed since about 1990. It’s not adjusted for inflation. It is just a gallonage tax, so the buying power of the State of Illinois gas tax today is about half the 55% of what it was when it was last touched back in 1990.”

“(Indiana) and Iowa just increased its gas tax,” he tells us. “Conservative Nebraska just increased its gas tax. And one of my biggest fears, I lie in bed at night worried that even though it may be paltry, when it’s time for our State to match what we need to match from Washington for important projects like the Red Line modernization, we’re not going to be ready to go. I was on a panel in Washington recently with someone from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and my counterpart from Phoenix who said, – ‘We have our federal match all ready to go. You guys haven’t even in Illinois done an infrastructure bill in a decade. We can’t wait to take your Illinois taxpayers’ money to use for projects in Indianapolis or in Phoenix.’ It’s political malfeasance to leave monies laying on the table, and these are yours and my monies, Illinoisans’ monies that go to Washington and get redistributed. We at least ought to get our own federal tax dollars back to the State, but you’ve got to have the match out of Springfield to match it.”


“We have, our grandparents, my parents’ generation have built what I believe is the best mass transit system in America, and we shouldn’t be the first generation that just lets it slide,” Kirk Dillard concludes. “I guarantee you 20 years from now CTA, Metra and Pace will continue to be the primary mode of the safest and fastest transportation in a population like we have. We move 2-million people a day. One-sixth of Illinois takes the RTA system every day. That’s an amazing number.”

Read a transcript of the entire conversation here:CN transcript March 8 2018

Listen to the show here on SoundCloud. 

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CN March 1 2018

Thousands of people in and around Chicago are signed up for Deferred Action for  Childhood Arrival, or DACA.  But with President Trump’s insistence that he can’t support the program’s continuation without a number of concessions, the program has become a nightmare of bureaucracy and uncertainty for its participants.

On this show, we talk with three experts who’ve devoted their professional lives to helping DACA recipients navigate the program’s pitfalls.

Our guests are:

Laura Mendoza, the Resurrection Project

theresurectionproject.org    (312) 666 3062 and on Facebook at The Resurrection project 


Ruth Lopez-McCarthy, the National Immigrant Justice Center

immigrantjustice.org     (312) 660-1370


Fred Tsao, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

icirr.org    (312) 332 7360


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CN Feb 22 2018

Three great friends, who haven’t been on the show for a while, visit to kick around the week’s news.

The students of Douglas High School in Florida have captured our attention, especially after last night’s CNN Town Hall. There’s also Janice Jackson, our new CPS CEO. and the decision not to close those four Englewood high schools all at once. Donald Trump’s fascinating infrastructure plan, which proposes building 1.5 trillion dollars’ worth of roads, bridges, tunnels and airports, without actually having any money on the table.  And Block Club Chicago, the newest effort to build a self-sustaining local news journalism site.

To help us sort it out – we have WBEZ’s Sarah Karp, Chicago Public Square’s Charlie Meyerson and NPR’s David Schaper.

“I was in Newtown, Connecticut after the shooting at Sandy Hook,” Schaper begins. “and what struck me—and I’m actually getting goose bumps just thinking about it—is the profound silence in that community. The people were just so devastated. People couldn’t put their thoughts to words in… I mean, there were people out there that were speaking, but there was just this overall sense of just devastation and of loss, and a profound sadness. And as a result, I don’t think that the message got out as well and wasn’t carried as well…families retrench, schools retrench, kids pull together and we’re constantly told, you know, stop putting a microphone in my face. Go away, let us grieve, let us grieve, let us deal with this in our own way. And you want to respect that. But at the same time I think in a lot of incidents in previous times maybe some people haven’t taken advantage of the spotlight that they had until it was too late.”

There’s an irony in the fact that Donald Trump appears more distant, and less empathetic than previous presidents, and we wonder if that has contributed to this sudden, surprising activism. “This is one of so many unanticipated consequences of the Trump presidency.,” Meyerson asserts. “It is in many ways an empowered population of civilians and voters. People are more engaged at all levels and in all political orientations in the process than I think surely would have happened had Hillary Clinton won the election.”

“And,” Karp adds, “I think that there have been Chicago Public School students who have been speaking out about gang violence and gun violence in their neighborhoods and have been trying to capture an audience in the way that these kids have. And I kind of wonder if there’s any sadness or frustration on their part that they haven’t gotten the same attention when Hadiya Pendleton was killed.”

Social media, Schaper says, is a major factor, and it’s paying a huge role in the current debates over countless social issues.

“I think the immigration issue is another issue,” he claims, “that, for a lot of people in urban areas and suburban areas are having a much more sympathetic view towards those who are coming to this country without documentation because they’re knowing them, they’re seeing them, and they’re seeing how their kids interact with their kids. And it’s changing the dynamic. And this is another issue where, again, the kids are leading and the adults are following.”

We ask Sarah Karp about Janice Jackson. She appears to be popular with parents and politicians alike, and she’s been able to perform a couple of policy reversals, such as the decision not to immediately close the four Englewood-area high schools, as had been announced.

“You don’t get to the top by not being a person that can compromise, that can make decisions, and that can maintain sort of a distance from sort of being too friendly with people, or too much of somebody’s person,” Karp explains. “So I will say that that is impressive about her. Even being chief education officer, she was basically No. 2 to Forrest Claypool. She didn’t become attached to him. She didn’t go down with his ship, you know? And she’s maintained sort of what her job is.

Now, I mean, there’s going to be challenges coming up. Even just a couple weeks ago, it was maybe last week or the week before, when Governor Rauner announced his budget and he said he wants to take the pension pickup away from Chicago Public Schools. Well, this will leave a big hole in the Chicago Public Schools’ budget, hundreds of millions. Now coming into this, one of the advantages that she had is that Forrest had, I mean, say what you may about his tenure, I mean, he dealt with a lot of financial issues, he pushed back against the state, and they won some victories. Now if she now wakes up and says okay, now I have to start cutting because I have this hole, well, I think that ends the honeymoon pretty quickly.”

Karp tells us about a recent story she wrote for WBEZ about Hope High School. “When I first started covering CPS, which was like 15, 17 years ago, it was known as a good school on the South Side. And I remember going there. You know who was the principal? Mahalia Hines. Mahalia Hines was the principal that brought that school into being good. And one of the first people I met there was a guy named Chip Johnson. Well, now Chip Johnson is the head of CPS outreach. He is the guy that is presiding over the school closing hearings, closing a school that is very dear to his heart.”

Today, according to Karp, of the 638 high-school aged students who live in Hope’s neighborhood, 602 have elected to leave. But that doesn’t tell the full story. The Englewood kids have scattered all over the city, while other children, mostly people with special education needs, have pooled in the school. Special Ed now serves more than half  of the population. And those former Hope kids? They’re in a mix of alternative schools, charters and traditional neighborhood schools – in other neighborhoods.

“In fact only 8% go to selective enrollment schools,” Karp explains. “And I can tell you from looking at the data that very, very few are actually at the Peytons and the Joneses and the really, really good schools. Most of the kids that are in selective enrollment schools are in places like King High School, South Shore High School. These are good selective enrollment schools, but they’re not like the stars of the system….So not many are getting to really, really tremendously better schools.” But they’re having to leave their neighborhoods to get even that incremental improvement.

And meanwhile at Hope High School, which will remain open for another three years because the community insisted on it, the former bustling, championship-winning school is a distant memory. “I mean, would you want your child in a school that doesn’t have much of anything? I mean, not even like—you talk about electives. Like let’s not even talk about after school. Let’s just talk about can you take German, Spanish, French, or…no. You can take Spanish online. That’s it. That’s your choice. That’s it. I mean, gym online. Online gym.

“You know, this is the thing, Karp says. “Some of this is about the kids. You know, you can change the school’s structure. But kids are coming with their socioeconomic backgrounds and educating them is a difficult job.”

“I remember a series that I edited that Jody Becker did for WBEZ back in the late ‘90s about Orr High School,” Schaper recalls. “And she embedded in Orr High School, as it went through one of these transformations and the difficulty of really changing a culture. You can change the staff all you want, and to some degree the challenges that the students are facing remain the same. And resources always becomes a question. And these schools, you know, they kind of reinvent the same problems, in some way, and not the solutions.”

Karp tells us about a recent report issued by the Inspector General for CPS. He found widespread abuse of the system that’s supposed to allocate seats in the neighborhood schools more fairly.

“And so basically, you know, if you have extra space, you can open those seats up,” she explains. “But people are supposed to apply. There’s supposed to be a lottery. Then you get on a waiting list and maybe you get into the school.”

“But principals are sort of not using that process and using their own process. And what they’re doing is some of them are looking at attendance records to see if they want the kids. Some of them are looking at grades. Some of them are looking at whether the kid has been suspended. And why are they doing that? I mean, it makes perfect sense. Why would you take a kid that you don’t need to take if the kid has got attendance problems? Why would you do that?

“I feel like if Janice Jackson was truly honest,” Karp continues, “she would look in the face of the people in Englewood and say listen, you guys are the losers. Your schools are the losers. That’s all there is to it…And going back to the Inspector General’s report, where people are letting kids in, you know, through the side door. Why? Well, one’s incentive—so you have this disincentive to let in kids that are, you know, might drag down your ratings, but you also have this huge incentive because you need that money.”

“That money” refers to the CPS practice of budgeting each school by the number of children enrolled, rather than funding specific programs and services in the school. So if you’re a principal and you’re losing enrollment, you’re losing money.

“On behalf of those parents who still have kids in schools, I mourn the loss of or the undermining of the neighborhood school,” says Meyerson. “I mean, the historic neighborhood school is a place where parents in a neighborhood met one another…And now that they’re sending their kids elsewhere, those neighborhood ties don’t exist. They’re not being formed.

“From the outside looking in,” he explains, “the school ratings game seems like a scam. And I say this as the parent of three sons who are now grown and out of schools and who went to, I think, an excellent school, but one that consistently wound up dinged in the ratings because, in large case because it was a diverse school with a lot of kids with socioeconomic disadvantages.

“And they were getting, as far as I could tell, a great education, but they didn’t have the advantage. Their test scores weren’t what they needed to be. And the result was a great school that showed up in the ratings, the state ratings, as not a New Trier level school, or a Peyton level school. And I think that they feel misleading.”


So let’s talk about infrastructure. What, under the proposed Trump infrastructure plan, would be the toll from, say the Edens Junction to downtown on the Kennedy?

“If that was tolled, it could be three, four, five bucks,” deadpans Schaper. It’s the president’s ‘pay as you go” federal concept that, having no money of its own, proposes to sell the expressways to investors, who would fix them and recoup their payments – and a profit – from user fees.

“This Trump infrastructure plan is a $1.5 trillion plan that actually has no actual money,” Schaper explains. “The President talks about, and has proposed, 200 billion coming from the federal government, but he doesn’t identify where that money comes from. And his aides have said, well, we envision budget cuts elsewhere that would—in the federal budget—that would provide extra money that we could then shift to infrastructure at the rate of $20 billion a year, so we keep whittling it down. It’s oh, it’s 1.5 trillion. Well, it’s really 200 billion. Oh, that’s over ten years, so that’s 20 billion a year…The way they get to some of that cost savings elsewhere in the federal budget, a $750 million cut to Amtrak. Huge cuts to transit programs, particularly capital grants that transit systems around the country, including here in Chicago, are in desperate need of. And the end result is, well then how much new money is really going in?

So that’s the other part of the Trump infrastructure plan – cutting 3/4 billion from Amtrak and other legacy public transit systems.

“The big concern I hear from a lot of people,” Schaper concludes, “is there could be widespread disparities then, projects that—projects that can generate revenue—will get funded. And those improvements that could help, you know, provide new transit options for people in underserved communities – may not.”

And in other good news for the president, Sinclair, the broadcast chain that’s made a name for itself promoting the policies of Donald Trump during its newscasts could be about to gain control of all the Tribune television stations, with the possible exception of WPIX in NYC and Chicago’s Own WGN. But there’s a wrinkle.

“Well,” explains Meyerson, “buying it and then selling it off. To a friend. And apparently, Robert Feder noted this morning, apparently they would continue to operate it, but they wouldn’t own it. So it seems like a difference without a distinction. And we should mention that WGN radio is also in the mix, the one radio station owned by Tribune Media…What becomes of WGN television under such a company, whether it owns it or whether it manages it? I think it’s a legitimate question, a legitimate concern, given the historic role that WGN television and radio have played in, you know, the civic discussion of this city.”

And finally, Block Club Chicago. It debuted with a huge splash last week when fans of the predecessor site, DNAInfo, pledged $130,000 in a couple of days to its Kickstarter.

“You know, I think they’re off to a good start,” Meyerson enthuses. “Anything can happen. And once you have content, and once you have an audience, which $130,000 will buy you, enough to get started and begin to build an audience, I think you can begin to develop other revenue streams, continuing membership fees or contributions, an advertiser base. I still think the digital advertising business, the local digital advertising business, is in for a shakeup and a reinvention. There’s money there, and I think it can be tapped by smart organizations.”

“The question is do they have business people really involved,” Karp wonders. “Because the people I know involved are mostly the reporter people. And, you know, even when you look at like the Chicago News Cooperative from I don’t know how long ago that was, which, you know, was a local entity, I think one of their problems was they didn’t have business people.”

“And they didn’t have digitally savvy content people, either,” Meyerson counters. “These guys know they have built an audience at DNAinfo. They understand what works.That’s a big difference, too.”

Schaper, our guest from NPR, says he’s still on board with non-commercial. “I’m not totally convinced that the nonprofit model can’t work,” he asserts. “There’s some way to marry the two together that you are providing sale, services, advertising, in a way. But, you know, public broadcasting has survived. Public radio is doing better than ever.”

And as the conversation winds down, all four panelists agree that, no matter what, you’ve gotta have good content first.

You can listen to this program on SoundCloud Here.

And you can read a full transcript HERE:CN transcript Feb 22 2018


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CN February 15 2018

Susana Mendoza, our state’s Comptroller, has emerged as one of Bruce Rauner’s most vocal opponents. And she wasn’t impressed with yesterday’s budget speech. She also tells us that she’s still strongly in JB’s corner, and she thinks the Quinn/Hampton mess has taught Speaker Madigan some lessons. “I think this is a…he’s had better days, put it that way,” she tells us.

You can watch the full show by clicking the video above.

You can listen to the show on SoundCloud.

You can read full transcript of the show here:CN transcript Feb 15 2018


Below are some selected highlights from this show, which was recorded Thursday Feb. 15 at 10:45 AM.


Reaction to Gov. tuner’s Feb 14 budget speech

Ken: Sen. Cullerton says he thinks the proposed budget’s out of balance by 1.5 billion.

Mendoza:     I think at least by one and a half billion. It’s…I believe it’s far more than that. It’s clearly not balanced, so let’s just start with that. I mean, for the governor to even pretend that this budget is balanced is again just…honestly, I don’t know how to say this nicely, but it’s like living in a fantasyland. It may be balanced in his head, but that’s the only place on earth. And again, at the end of the day you have to understand that you cannot balance a budget with just wishful thinking, with, you know, pixie dust or magic beans. You actually have to crunch the numbers, right?

I mean, his stuff doesn’t make any sense. And ultimately, you can’t tell the taxpayers that you’re gonna reduce their tax load without being willing to say where you would cut to make up for the difference in the lost revenue…He’s already tried that. It blew a $5 billion hole in our budget when that tax expired, yet the governor continued to spend as if that tax revenue was still coming in. And then just blames everybody else for the state’s fiscal problems, when in fact they’re his fault.

Reaction to Gov. Rauner’s plan shifting pension payments to local school districts

You’d have to be crazy to think that the Democrats and the Republicans are going to have enough votes to even move forward with a piece of legislation like that, because frankly, the greatest critics of his own legislation are the Republican members of his chamber, who he would normally have to rely on as at least a base to get started on any legislation.

And, you know, just based on the reaction of what I heard, forget about my opinion, the Democrats and the Republicans were leading the charge against Governor Rauner yesterday saying that he wants to hike people’s property taxes up, you know, dramatically. That’s dead on arrival. And it’s not dead on arrival even because the Democrats don’t work with the governor. It’s dead on arrival because his own party…will never let that happen.

Reaction to question about how Rauner will co-operate with Trump on the federal infrastructure initiative

Representative McSweeney actually was in Washington and even doubled down on realizing that there’s really been very little to no communication between the Rauner administration and the Washington folks to actually bring those transportation dollars here. So it was a real, real interesting moment in the speech when he said oh, we’ve been working hard and we’re ready to pull the trigger on this transportation thing.

And I turned to look at Representative McSweeney just because I thought, oh, that is the biggest whopper that has maybe come out so far. And you could see him like squirming in his chair, like that is so not true! But we have a governor who just really has an inability to…to accept responsibility for any wrongdoing, who has the inability to, frankly, just tell the truth to the public.

You know, he spouts these things off as if they’re true. And, you know, I just hope that by now, after four years of hearing this, the public is just smarter and can understand that the governor just can’t tell the truth. I mean, he’ll lie to a cardinal to his face and…and then pretend he didn’t. And so that’s who we have, and we need a new governor.

Reaction to Gov. Rauner’s proposals for Higher Ed funding

Governor Rauner has, you know, reduced funding to higher ed by 60%, 30% in his first year alone. And then we starved—he starved the state universities over the last two and a half years with that budget impasse… Meanwhile, because of Governor Rauner’s reticence on getting a budget done, those universities, five of our state universities, went into deep junk bond territory…And it’s gonna take them years to crawl out of it. And now he’s talking about, well, we should just get rid of some of these universities and consolidate them. If that was your plan, then you should actually put forth a plan, not just starve them to death and then have no other option, right? There are options. We need to invest more in higher education.


Reaction to recordings of JB Pritzker and Rod Blagojevich discussing  a possible appointment to fill Barack Obama’s vacant Senate Seat, and Mendoza’s continued support forPritzker

Ken:                You’re not deterred by these developments with the Blago tapes?


Susana:            Well, I think, for example, to me the one that was…I felt like disappointed on was the one with Jesse White. And I feel it’s a terrible choice of words. But I also feel that J.B. has a lifetime of advocacy and championing causes that are important to that very community, along with so many others, right?            Just what he’s done alone with early childhood education in preparing like Hispanic and African American kids to be able to compete with all the other children. Nobody has led on that issue, even nationally, as much as J.B. Pritzker has. School breakfast for kids—

Ken:                Interestingly, you’re doing a little bit better job selling it than he is, I would have to say.

Susana:            Well, I don’t know, but I’m just telling you why I still support him. And I think that what he did was, you know, an unfortunate use of words, but it doesn’t represent who he is as a person and what his entire life’s product has been. And I think that should weigh more heavily on voters when they’re looking at candidates than, you know, a less than stellar moment for him, right?

Here’s the other point that I’d like to say about that in particular, is that unlike Governor Rauner—and I think it’s important to compare the two, right, ‘cause they’re both running against each other and might ultimately be who is facing off—as much as you can be disappointed about what happened on that tape, J.B. Pritzker acknowledges that it was one of his worst moments, probably, and that he takes full responsibility, and it was a sincere apology, and he has been working hard to make things better.

And that is perhaps my biggest gripe against Governor Rauner, is that no matter what goes wrong in the state of Illinois, no matter what he’s done to actually single-handedly make these bad things happen, he’s never acknowledged any fault in anything. Like he is unwilling, he has a chronic inability to accept responsibility for any wrongdoing or any of the damage that he’s inflicted on the state.

And so as much as it’s not a stellar moment—I would say it was embarrassing and painful for J.B.—from my perspective it was nice to see that he actually owned up to it and that he’s really sincerely apologized and is gonna learn from that mistake. Because if you don’t even acknowledge that you made a mistake, how can you ever learn from that and fix it moving forward?

I’m the first person to say I’m not perfect, he’s not, and nobody should expect any of us to be perfect. I think we should always try to hold ourselves to a higher standard than, you know, your average taxpayers because we’re asking for their trust. But at the same time, we’re not perfect. The key thing here, though, is that when you do make a mistake, are you big enough, in his case is he man enough, to own it and to try to fix it and to never make that mistake again? And I think he certainly is.

Ken:                You think he’d make a better governor than Biss or Kennedy?

Susana:            I think he’ll make a…I think he’d be the best governor. This is why I’m supporting him versus the other candidates. And I think they’re all good men, so I would say on the Democratic side of the ticket, I mean, look at Bob Daiber. He’s probably one of the best people you’ll ever meet in your life, you know.

But who do I think—and I think that maybe, perhaps, my opinion, which I certainly don’t want to oversell to your public—but if anyone has had an up close and personal look at the devastation that Bruce Rauner has caused for our state, it’s me in my capacity as the state’s chief fiscal officer. I deal with it every single day. And so you better believe that I’ve been working very hard over the last year, and we’ve accomplished amazing successes in a short amount of time.

00:48:04          I want to fix the state of Illinois. And I…I decided to get behind the person who I think will be ready to actually lead on day one, who will be able to build the coalitions necessary to… And that means not just Democrats, but Republicans, too, right, that can actually bring people to the table where we’re all acting like adults, not kids, which is kind of what we’ve seen in Springfield, and…and get the job done.

He’s a business guy, but he’s not saying that we should run government like a business. He’s not the Bruce Rauner business model. Bruce Rauner built his wealth by taking over struggling businesses and firing thousands of people. J.B. has created businesses in Illinois. He’s the only candidate actually running for governor that has a history and a track record of actually building businesses and letting other people be self-sufficient, right, and provide for their families and so forth.

So I think, you know, he brings a lot to the table, and he’s a really good person. And while it wasn’t his best moment on that tape, I’ve seen so many really incredible, sincere, good moments from J.B., and I expect to see a whole lot more when he’s our governor.


Reaction to revelations that Alania Hampton accused her supervisor in Mike Madigan’s office of sexual harassment

Susana:            I think it’s great that Miss Hampton came forward. I do, you know, you have to wonder why does an investigation take three months, right? But I don’t know. I wasn’t privy to that investigation. I do know, though, that the final product of firing this guy, without question, was the right move.

What I do think, though, is that this is a situation that all of us, as executives, have to look at, and look within our own organizations and see what can we do better. Because clearly the disconnect here was that this young lady had to go to the alderman to talk about a difficult situation because there was no other process in place to actually deal with issues of sexual harassment. And I don’t think that that’s unique to the Speaker’s situation here. That’s…you could say that about every elected official, every political organization, and every executive at any level, both public and private.

So I think all of us—and one thing that will definitely, I’m sure, come out of this scenario with the speaker is that I would believe that it’s incumbent upon him to crack down on this and to come forth with a plan on how political committees should operate in this new environment. It’s not a new environment in that this hasn’t happened before, but it’s a new environment in that everybody’s talking about it, and people feel more empowered about bringing forth these allegations. And so they should have like a way to follow my allegation, right? Like if I accuse someone of doing something to me, I don’t want to be like waiting in the wind for three or five or six months, because then I feel like no one’s really taking me seriously.

Ken:                Well—

Susana:            I’d like to have…there needs to be a process in place that you can follow that you feel like your allegation is being taken seriously, because it needs to be. And then number two, like you’re informed throughout this process.

Ken:                Yeah.

Susana:            And I think that there was a massive lack of—

Ken:                Well, that’s—

Susana:            —communication.

Ken:                —that’s the…that’s the issue here, isn’t it? Because Miss Hampton, I mean, certainly there’s no question about the fact she was…she was a Madigan ally.

Susana:            Yeah, no doubt.

Ken:                I mean, she was wholly in this thing.

Susana:            Sure.

Ken:                And she felt that she had to resign because things were so uncomfortable.

Susana:            Yeah, yeah.

Ken:                And she accuses Madigan of running out the clock.

Susana:            Yeah.

Ken:                So she’s…she believes that he’s done her wrong.

Susana:            Yeah. I mean, clearly she does.

Ken:                And that’s one of his closest allies that is saying that.

Susana:            Clearly she does. And again, I think because—

Ken:                So I’ll ask again. Is he—

Susana:            —there was no process in place.

Ken:                —is he vulnerable?


Susana:            I think this is a…he’s had better days, put it that way. So I think everybody’s vulnerable. I don’t think it’s just the speaker. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ken:                Do you think he’ll be able to ride this out, this one?

Susana:            I do, because I think the speaker will learn from this, and he’ll put, you know, measures in place to make sure that it never happens in his organization. But I also think that as a result of that lots of other elected officials in both parties will be probably looking at how they can make their climates more conducive to people coming forward and knowing that there’s a path to monitoring what’s happening. So this is one of those, you know, teachable moments. And unfortunately Miss Hampton had to be the victim in here, and feels doubly victimized. But the bigger question is what are we gonna do to fix it? And—

Ken:                What should they do to fix it? We only have like a minute. But what should they do?

Susana:            Well, they’ve got to put some major teeth into processes, right? Like so in our office we’re looking at revamping even what we do have, which, we do have a process in place, but can we do better? And I think that everybody’s gonna have to do that. It’s not just at the speaker’s level. It has to be all of us that take responsibility for this as well.






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CN Feb 8 2018 Ed Zotti


On Monday, the City accepted four proposals from consortiums of companies interested in building a transit link between downtown Chicago and O’Hare airport. Mayor Emanuel expressed great pleasure about the amount of interest shown in the proposed project, and reiterated his assertion that no taxpayer money would be used to build the line.

We talked this week with noted transit expert Ed Zotti (who still moonlights after four decades as editor and general assistant to Cecil Adams, the World’s Smartest Human and proprietor of the Reader’s Straight Dope column.)

Zotti thinks there’s a good possibility some kind of “express” service will be built.

“I think they will,” he predicted. “I think the chances of making it work on multiple levels are better than people think. And I don’t want to put money on it, but I think it can go ahead as the City expects in the sense that number one, it will get you down fast. Number two, the fare won’t be crazy, and number three, it can get done at some reasonable period of time. And number four, most important of all it won’t cost the City any money.

Of course, we cynics find it difficult to ever accept the idea that something will be built without taxpayer money getting  in the pipeline at some point, but Zotti says it could work as a private-sector investment, and it also could spur some serious re-thinking of transit options that connect to it.

“Once you put in this major piece of infrastructure,” he asserts, “you suddenly have to think what goes in at either end? How does it connect to everything else we’ve got, and a bunch of stuff that people have been talking about, that I personally have been talking about for quite a number of years, suddenly start to think how are we going to make it all fit together? Now is the opportunity. You’re going to make major investments. You’ve got to do some major rearrangements and things. If you’re going to do anything ever now is that time.”

Zotti’s especially heartened by the quality and experience of some of the companies that submitted proposals. They include Amtrak, for example, and companies with extensive experience building infrastructure for the CTA.

But he’s not expecting the City to go along with the Elon Musk idea for a high-speed tunnel. That technology, he says, is at least 20 years away. A surface line, though, using some existing right-of-way, might be the answer, he says.

“Can you do it in 20 minutes?” he asks. ” Can you do it in – are there a lot of grade crossings? I don’t know, but it’s not a crazy thing to ask for. It’s not like you have to build a tunnel.”

Zotti is bullish on Chicago’s near-term future, and he says the trends would seem to support the O’Hare line and the associated transit infrastructure it could make possible.

“We have the fastest growing downtown in the country, I don’t want to sound like City administration here, but it’s true, in terms of population we’re at record highs in terms of employment. Downtown Chicago, the core, the central area, accounts for more than half of jobs in the City of Chicago. The first time probably in the history of the City that’s ever been the case. So that’s what’s working, and you want to play to that, and it’s the downtown jobs…I mean there’s a lot of jobs for a lot of people at a whole range of income and skill levels. So the fact that downtown Chicago becomes more viable as a business center is a good thing for a lot of people. And even if you yourself never in a million years would pay 30 or 25-bucks or whatever it is to ride a train, the fact that it’s there and other people do is a good thing for you potentially.”

In the near term, though the CTA is facing some serious drop-off in ridership.

“Rail as dropped off a lot,” he reports. “I’ve written extensively about this. Between 1992, which was the low point, and 2015 rail rose virtually every year. Bus has been up and down. Bus, let me be frank, is in long-term decline. I mean 50 years ago it was 600-million rides a day and now it’s down. It’s heading down to 200-million.”

The irony is that downtown employment continues to rise, but rail traffic is declining.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that as downtown employment goes up rail ridership goes up, because it’s the easiest way to get downtown. 2015 that very clear-cut process came to a halt. Employment continued to go up, but total rail ridership went down. What clearly was happening in my opinion was the Uber-effect. There were other things at work. Gas prices were at historically low levels…But the people who take the journey to work on the L continues to rise at a steady pace as one would expect, given the fact that downtown employment continues to go up. What is probably happening is that non-work trips are in decline…And just anecdotally, the CTA will tell you that evening traffic seems to be off. Weekend traffic which is counted separately obviously is way off, as much as 20% on some lines.

So people seem to be using Uber as an alternative to rail when they’re not going directly downtown, or when the streets are less congested, or for an evening/weekend short rip to recreation, etc, when an Uber/Lyft ride from the front door to a bar or social event can cost only a little more than the CTA.

Zotti predicts that CTA rail will always be viable whenever the expressways are clogged with traffic.

“If you can carry large volumes of people despite the fact that you’ve got street congestion, that’s a reason for people to ride your service. And that’s what’s propelled the growth of the rail service in Chicago for more than 20 years. And it went up, what my research established was that it went up in lock step with services employment in the core.”

But great change is ahead. A new generation is remaking the city center as not only a place to work and play, but also to live. And although we may not know how these trends will affect mass transit, we know even less about how it will affect the driving of personal cars.

“I was at a fascinating seminar about a year ago talking about what people plan to build now versus (then), like a parking structure,” Zotti explains. “You build a big commercial complex you’ve got to have a huge amount of parking structure.  The architects now are telling people figure out a way to reuse this space.”

In other words, build a building you can re-purpose, rathe than demolish when you won’t need it any more.

“Ten years down the road, exactly, because you’re not going to need anywhere this much space for parking, a fascinating story,” he says. “So have shallow spaces. Have enough depth that you can put air-conditioning ducts and that kind of stuff in.

So expect to see garages without extensive ramps, and with higher floors. Buildings that could easily be flipped to offices or labs or warehouses.

A recent passion of Zotti’s has been attempting to re-ignite a conversation about extending transit into and through the parts of downtown that have almost no public transit.

“I was with Central Area Committee,” he tells us, “and we proposed in 2016 something we were calling the Connector, which is, I’m trying to draw you a picture of where it went, but it was going to serve many of the same areas on the periphery of the traditional loop. It would connect the rail stations, the Metra stations to the CTA, which right now are very poorly connected. I mean if you go to New York, Washington, Boston, you can take the suburban rail system in and there is a station right there, and we don’t have that. You’ve got to walk blocks if you can even find it. So I think those things need to happen, and that’s what I think the value of this express to O’Hare will be. Once we get that in place,” he says, it can be a trigger ” To get everything else going.”


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Feb 8 2018 A.D. Quig


Will Fritz Kaegi’s challenge to Andrea Raila’s petitions succeed, knocking her off the ballot for Cook County tax assessor? If not, will her presence on the ballot mean that the challengers will split the anti- Joe Berrios vote, and he gets re-elected? Those are the big questions in the air right now, as Raila now faces a final board hearing, where two hearing officers will make the final decision. And if they split, she gets on the ballot.

“There’s a lot to be said about the system for getting on the ballot here,” says The Daily Line’s A.D. Quig. “I mean the minimum to get on for Assessor and other executive county offices like County Board President is 8,200 roughly. For Governor, for Attorney General it’s only 5,000.”

But that legal number, of course, is only a minimum. “To really be safe that you’re going to make it you have to get three times that amount or else you’re going to get challenged into the ground, and they can challenge you on this signature doesn’t match the one that they have at the Board of Elections. Their address has changed. You notarized it wrong. The person that circulated it didn’t sign this correctly. So there are a lot of technicalities that can get you booted off, and Joe Berrios challenged both Fritz Kaegi and Andrea Raila, ultimately decided they couldn’t get within striking distance of getting them under 8,000, so he walked away.”

That didn’t clear the path for Raila, though.

“But what’s happening now,” Quig tells us, “is Fritz Kaegi has challenged Andrea Raila’s, the notarization process and saying she and her family and members of her business perpetrated this widespread fraud, so notarizing things when the circulator wasn’t there in person, taking petition sheets that were mailed into the campaign and putting them back out on the streets so that the sheet would get filled up instead of them turning in one or two signatures…And the hearing officer believed that case, and Kaegi had a very high burden of proof. He had to prove she went into this with intention and the hearing officer went with Kaegi.”

The stakes are enormous. The Assessor’s job is vitally important, and the accusations against the incumbent are detailed and complicated. They were first laid out by Jason Grotto in the Tribune last June. You can watch his interview withChicagoNewsroom here.

The problem is that the petition battle is taking valuable time away from the issues, Quig laments. “There are so many accusations flying in this thing that we can’t even get to the discussion about what’s wrong with the assessment system,” she tells us.

Shorty after the series of articles by the Tribune and ProPublica, President Toni Preckwinkle demanded an independent inquiry of the entire assessment system.

“If you’re working in politics this was a huge deal,” Quig explains. “So she announced this back in July, late July, and we’ve been waiting and waiting for this report to come out. And last week the Tribune wrote a story saying all right, it’s been seven months; how long could this possibly take? Is Preckwinkle slow-walking this because she wants to protect Joe Berrios? So she came out this week and said, “Nope, it’s coming out next week. We will have a full month before the Primary, so we can work this out.” And it also allows Joe Berrios to say, “I’m following all the recommendations from this independent study and we’re going to make this right.”

But, as Grotto pointed out, there have been studies before this.

“We’ve had I think five studies now that have said there’s a problem with the assessment system,” Quig explains. “So if this report comes to the conclusion it won’t be terribly surprising. But now we have this commitment from Berrios and Preckwinkle that what is in these recommendations we are going to follow.”

Of course, we had that commitment before. “Right,” Quig agrees. “So what a lot of people forget is that the Tribune series showed that Berrios had access to a system to make the assessment more fair dating back to 2011 and he abandoned them.”

A.D.Quig covers all aspects of County government, and she tells us there’s a brouhaha bubbling up at the County Board over Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s slow progress in modernizing the office’s Information Technology.

“She thinks she gets a bad rap on not implementing technology,” quick says. “There was this big battle this week about the e-filing system, which the State has mandated for every circuit court, and it’s going slowly and commissioners aren’t happy. Dorothy Brown has had e-filing on her website since 2008. It’s very clumsy and you still can’t get access to documents online. If you go to federal court it’s called Pacer. You pay a little money you can get access to every single item on the docket. So the State has mandated e-filing by next January, and there has been all this back and forth with Brown’s office about well we already have e-filing. And it’s just extremely complicated and very frustrating for commissioners who have said, “We gave you $36-million to upgrade your technology. Why isn’t this happening when it’s supposed to?”

When the BGA and WBEZ reviewed 113 suburban police shootings over the last 14 years they found dozens in which suspects weren’t armed, shots were fired into moving cars and other actions that violated the town’s own policies. Sheriff Tom Dart offered to help the suburban police forces with training and technical assistance, but he ran into resistance.

“Cook County agreed to do a hearing on how they might do that,” Quig reports, “And when President Preckwinkle was asked about it she said, “Well you know we had this giant budget crunch this past year. We had to lay off 1,000 people and we are trying to slice costs as much as possible, so I’m not sure what kind of resources we can dedicate to this, but I’m excited to see what Tom Dart proposes.”

You can read a transcript of this discussion here: CN transcript Feb 8 2018 A.D. Quig

You can listen to this program on SoundCloud here.

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CN Feb 1 2018


Robert Reed is a business columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He’s written on a broad range of topics from Net Neutrality to McDonald’s plastic cold drink cups, and he came to the table this week for a free-ranging conversation about the economy and Chicago’s business climate. We changed topics pretty often, so here are some highlights from our conversation.

On the historic digital disruption we’re all living through in retail, entertainment, medicine and just about everything else:

But the whole relationship is changing, so maybe you will go to a store and pick up something that you ordered online. We’re going to see that in retail, apparel, and appliances, and we’re also going to see it in groceries. That’s a real big area of change. And Amazon is driving all of this.

Big, big stuff, and you know it is across the board. It’s going to happen in medicine. It’s happening in education. You name it, whatever it is, whether it’s a for-profit industry, a non-for-profit industry, the changes that are rippling through are going to have to be dealt with. And what no one can really say right now is it for the greater good and what’s the greater good. Will people be employed? Will they be able to live where they want to live?


On Amazon’s HQ2. Chicago’s in the top five, he believes, and one of our weaknesses is a strength: We’ve got lots of places for people to live:

It would have a positive impact, but there would be riplets because of it. But frankly, that’s one of the reasons why I personally believe Chicago has a good shot at it, because when you look at the, what they call the request for proposal that Amazon put out, Chicago does size up pretty well. And one of the things that I think Amazon is concerned about is community backlash, because they are having problems in Seattle on this point and Mayor Rahm Emanuel I think is right. They don’t want to walk into that problem again, which they could in a lot of the markets they are looking at. Chicago could absorb them. There are what, eight to ten tracts of land that you could do something with. So I think from that perspective it has a shot.

Increasingly though, I think the political dysfunction of the State is going to get in the way, because nobody wants to parachute into the middle of some kind of brawl like that, and that could be a problem. And so when you look over that list of 20 I think Chicago has a shot. I think the Washington area has a shot, but I also wouldn’t rule out something out of the blue, you know.


More Amazon: It looks as thought Amazon is set to battle, and possibly forever change, Walgreens. Can Amazon kill Walgreens?

I don’t think it could do that. I think Walgreens will have to do something, maybe like CVS is acquiring Aetna and become more of a healthcare provider, but Walgreens seems to be more intent on staying within the retail pharmacy, cosmetics, that world. And you know it’s a highly regulated industry, and one of the things that Walgreens has been able to do is navigate that. Amazon less so. I mean when Amazon has tried to sell basically regulated products it has run into problems, like liquor and beer, so there’s a learning curve there.


When a company is perceived as old and not modern in its ways, is it curtains? We talk about Sears and McDonald’s, two historically Chicago-based giants.

I think both of them had sort of for a long time said, “We will tell the customer what they want, and we’re not going to listen to the customer.” And that changed, and in McDonald’s case they heard and they’ve gone through a number of wrenching changes to be more… You know you are still selling fast food, so the areas of nutrition and healthy diets and all that, that’s not going to go away. They still have to deal with those issues. In the case of Sears, they wanted to be everything to everyone. They told you what they were going to give you, and if you didn’t like it well there was something wrong with you. [Laughs]


On the digital and generational shift happening in virtually every industry and business:

And the difficulty as a worker is to recognize and go with the change and not resist it, while at the same time maintaining what I consider to be core values and keeping true to yourself, and not getting swept away by all of this innovation and losing your humanity or looking out for other people. It’s difficult to cope in this society.

You can listen to this show on SoundCloud here.

You can read the transcript of this show here:CN transcript Feb 1 2018

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CN Jan 25 2018

About a third of a million Americans work today in the solar energy field. They’re making solar panels, wire, inverters, conduits, roof support racks and hundreds of other products. They’re working in offices designing custom installations, since every roof is different. They’re climbing up on those roofs carrying heavy equipment and bolting it down against windstorms and heavy snows. And most of them are making good money.

At at time when the conventional wisdom was that everyone had to go to law school or get an MBA, an entire generation of clever, handy people works in an industry that’s actually improving the earth’s environment.

The big driver in this suddenly-booming business? Solar panels that cost a tiny fraction of what earlier versions cost only a couple of years ago.

Our guest this week works at such a company. Lisa Albrecht is a board member of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. But she also works at Solar Solutions in Niles, where they’ve been installing solar systems for forty years. But these new efficient panels are game changers, she tells us. ComEd charges roughly 10 to 11cents per kilowatt hour, but the arrays she’s putting on roofs today are really turning the financial equation upside-down.

“If I look at the amount of energy that they are going to produce over 25 years they actually end up paying about six to seven cents per kilowatt hour installed,” she tells us, “So less than the utility charges you today. And you don’t have inflation costs on top of that, never raising costs…So, you have a fixed rate of energy on your roof for the next 30 years. And I can say that because the manufacturer warranty on that product is 25 years.”

The reason we’re talking today is that the Trump Administration announced  few days ago that it would be imposing 30% tariffs on all the solar panels made outside the U.S., ostensibly to save American Jobs. But only a few thousand of those hundreds of thousands mentioned earlier actually work in American panel manufacturing plants. The real jobs, and the real growth, is in installing, and applying, that technology to buildings and vacant land parcels. And Albrecht says the tariff will hurt, but it won’t be a fatal blow.

“I saw a lot of sensationalism on the news, people were panicking,” she tells us. “I don’t think it’s going to kill the industry. It’s going to slow things down a little bit. People were buying solar panels three years ago, two years ago. Basically, it’s putting us back there in terms of price, but the prices will continue to come down. We get more efficiencies all the time.”

The industry is growing so quickly that it’s attracting all kinds of innovation, so that more efficient forms of solar collection methods could completely revolutionize the business again and again.

“I think not only more efficient, but I think they will also probably look different and how they are applied will be different,” she enthuses. “I mean there is research right now that for example spray-paints that create energy. Tesla has the whole solar roof. There’s a see-through window basically piece of photo-voltaic that, just imagine, like the Sears Tower actually  has some experimental windows that include that also. If you start really to look at what surfaces in society see the sun and can those produce electricity, it gets really exciting.”

Albrecht tells us that her company, before the tariffs, was able to install solar on a typical bungalow for about ten thousand dollars.  “So, if I’m using a 300-watt panel, let’s say I do 20 of them, I’m going to get about a 6-kilowatt system and that’s going to be somewhere around $20,000 before incentives. Now there’s a 30% federal tax credit and the State of Illinois also has some separate incentives, so that brings that cost down to less than $10,000.

“And so it will be a 30% tax just on the solar panels themselves,” she continues, ” so the solar panels are just a portion of the total cost of the installation. Whether it’s on a rooftop or whether it’s in a huge solar field with thousands of panels, this is a portion of that piece, so for residential we’re looking at maybe a 10% increase in costs.”.

That 10% increase probably won’t scare off too many customers, she says, but federal threats to eliminate the tax credits would be another matter entirely.

But the industry isn’t going away, she insists, because “There’s more people employed in the solar industry than in coal, oil, and gas combined. And people don’t realize that that’s how large solar is. I think a lot of people just assume that it still is a niche. It is no longer a niche; it is a mainstream.”

And for Chicagoans accustomed to the ways of City Hall, here’s a shocker: Albrecht says the City bureaucracy has actually embraced solar rooftops on houses. “I started personally going down to the Building Department,” she smiles. “I had permits that took over a year to pull. And the City recognized that that was a problem, so they actually received a grant from the Department of Energy, it’s called a SunShot Grant, and to pull a solar permit today on a standard residential house takes me one day.”

Although Lisa Albrecht lives very much in the practical world, she enjoys thinking about the future that solar energy can bring.

“In reality,” she begins, “for just one hour of sunshine that strikes the surface of the earth we have enough electricity if we turned that sunshine into electricity to power all of humanity for an entire year. One hour, one day, a whole year. So, even decades ago Buckminster Fuller was looking at this and he was like, well, what if electricity just followed the sun and we just kept the transmission flowing?”

A kind of global collection grid that could send the energy to the dark hemisphere?

“Exactly,” she replies. “And we could put solar panels around the equator. There’s many solutions if we are just committed to finding them, and that’s before we even add in wind or hydro or many of the other claimed technologies. We don’t necessarily need nuclear. We don’t need coal. We don’t need natural gas. I see those as transitional fuels, you know, which I’m sure they would not like to be considered a transition fuel, but really their days are over.

And, she concludes, “My vision is that we will never build a house without solar. It doesn’t make sense.”

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CN Jan 18 2018 (ProPublica)

Guest host Craig Newman is joined by ProPublica Illinois’ Editor in Chief Louise Kiernan and reporter Jason Grotto. They discuss being the first regional publishing operation of ProPublica, their reporting around Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, and their revelation that the independent watchdog group Project Six might not be all that independent.

You can listen to the discussion on SoundCloud here.

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